This year marks Chesapeake Light Craft's 30th anniversary. The years 1991-2021 offer an insightful segment in which to study how boatbuilding, and boatbuilding kits, have changed since our scrappy, low-tech beginnings in Arlington, Virginia. Here's a quick panorama of CLC's first 30 years.

In episodes to come, we'll be spotlighting some of the innumerable adventures (and misadventures) at CLC: 6000-mile expeditions in our boats. Hundreds of boatbuilding classes. Travel all over the United States and beyond. The famous OkoumeFest, our annual rendezvous. Fascinating custom designs. Television and video.

John C. Harris
January 2021

Chesapeake Light Craft was founded by Chris Kulczycki (left, above), a busy writer and experienced paddler. Chris designed and built a series of stitch-and-glue kayaks in the little shop behind his house in Arlington, Virginia.  


Chris's experiments led to a series of well-received magazine articles, and to his first book, "The Kayak Shop."

Chris had excellent marketing instincts. The deluge of mail requesting kayak plans and kits suggested a business opportunity, and CLC was off and running.

Lacking shop space to produce kits, Chris subcontracted kayak kit fabrication first to craftsman Chaim Russ, in Annapolis, Maryland. When Chaim was overwhelmed, the work moved to O'Connell's Wooden Boat Shop, in Chestertown, Maryland. 

In 1994 this building housed O'Connell's Wooden Boat Shop. Today it's Chestertown's natural foods grocery; in the 1920's, the building was a Chevrolet dealership. 

Chesapeake Light Craft

At O'Connell's, the job of cutting CLC kayak kits fell to a gawky, nerdy, boat nut and recent college grad: John Harris.

This photo, from Fall 1994, shows John Harris packing up the first Tred Avon Double kayak kit. Two more kits, probably Severn kayaks, are lined up on the right. Yes, in those days, the kits were shipped in heavy wooden crates.

Chesapeake Light Craft

In a matter of months, O'Connell's Wooden Boat Shop couldn't keep up with demand. Chris and John opened our current location in April 1995. This photo was taken not long after. From left to right: Clay Corry, John Harris, and Chris. The photo was probably taken by CLC's indispensable business manager, Chris's wife Annette.

Chesapeake Light Craft

1995 to 2000 were years of remarkable growth in paddlesports, smallcraft, and amateur boatbuilding. When Chris was ready to move on to new business ventures, John Harris purchased the company. The photo above shows John standing in the same shop space as the preceding photo, now converted into a showroom and retail outlet.

We still call 1805 George Avenue our home, though the shops, machinery bays, and offices spread over more than 10,000 square feet. 

The first few thousand boat kits were cut by hand using templates and a router table. The process yielded decent accuracy but was fussy, hazardous to human fingers, and insufficient to meet demand. Thus we acquired our first CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine, shown here in 1997. 

We cycled through several larger and more sophisticated machines over the years. This monster---over 25 feet long---runs 10 hours a day, most days.

Computers do most of the cutting, but packing is still a hands-on job. In 30 years, we've shipped more than 40,000 kits to more than 70 countries, not counting kits cut by our dealerships in the UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Japan.

Boat kits, packed and ready to go.

CLC's staff as of summer 2020, safely masked and Cloroxing touch-surfaces at the shop several times a day.

Stand by for more articles about some of the fun (and occasionally crazy) things we've done at Chesapeake Light Craft!